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Unfunny Foolishness

I’m amazed every year by how many people “celebrate” April Fool’s Day by posting believable, and often sad-bordering-on-calamitous “gags” that are too easy to believe are true. The point, I was always taught, was to be outrageous, improbable, and most of all funny in your April foolishness … that the point was more to get a laugh than to actually trick anyone.

Look, it’s not that I’m against April Fool’s Day. In fact, in my family we have a long history of celebrating … with the SAME JOKE every year. My dad actually gets more than a little sad if at some point during the day each and every one of his kids, grandkids, and outlying family members don’t call to tell him specifically that his car is on fire. (I didn’t say it was a GOOD joke, I just said it was OUR joke.)

So, with all that in mind, I apologize in advance to anyone who has something unexpected and tragic happen today … because I’m going to be apt to dismiss news of such events as poorly executed “jokes.” I’ll resume my usual empathetic ways tomorrow, once this nonsense has ended.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to be waiting for my nephews to call and tell me that MY car is on fire! (Ahhh … family traditions!)

A Star Is Borne

I had a strange dream that I was cast as the lead in an indie film being shot somewhere in Montana. I flew into a small local airport where the producer (who also seemed to be my agent) met me with my trailer (literally a boxy, plyboard trailer hooked onto the back of his pick-up truck and outfitted like a summer camp bunk) and drove me off to the location. It was several hours away on a down-and-out ranch run by a middle-aged widow (whom I didn’t see in the dream) and her son and daughter (each of whom made an appearance … and were sexually suggestive with me).

Never got around to what the movie actually was, though I was clearly ME and more than a little uncertain about being a leading man for a feature film of any sort. I was clearly not entirely thrilled with the script, though no real details about it were mentioned in the dream.

I woke up just about the time I was trying to decide which uncomfortable bed I was going to sleep in, and thinking about the fact that I hadn’t brought any ranch-appropriate shoes to wear. My thought seemed to be that they’d have something for me in wardrobe … but the reality seemed to be that “wardrobe” was whatever I had in my suitcase (which wasn’t much).

Wonder if I’ll dream about being on set tonight?

Wednesday Toon: 500 Eldritch Pieces

This week’s 10′x10′ Toon provides proof positive of the difference between INT and WIS.

Wednesday Toon: Seeing Is Believing

It’s Wednesday, and that means a new comic over at 10x10Toon.com. This week we see that there isn’t any ploy too cheap for a hungry dungeon denizen.

Wednesday Toon: Ramming Speed

It’s Wednesday, and that means a new comic over at 10x10Toon.com. This week it’s a naval Typo of Doom contributed by none other than Bruce Heard (who just completed a successful Kickstarter drive for his World of Calidar campaign setting).

What a Wit Am I!

As most folks in the U.S. will know, yesterday was a national holiday—Martin Luther King Jr. Day—with all the office and service closures such an event generally comes with.

At the start of the day, I REMEMBERED that it was MLK Day. I knew that kids would be out of school, and that would impact everything from midday crowds at restaurants to many of my friends’ availability for email and phone conversations.

And yet . . . I carefully planned the latter part of my afternoon around being able to go to the post office and the bank on my way to tonight’s playtest. The post office and bank that are ALWAYS closed on national holidays. Which yesterday was. Which I knew.

So the only question left to me was whether remembering the holiday but failing to apply that knowledge completely makes me a HALFwit or a full DIMwit.

Maybe I should post a poll.

El Maestro & Me

Recently on Facebook, cartoonist extraordinaire Scott Shaw! created a new group to celebrate the work, talent, and incredible generosity of Sergio Aragonés … El Maestro, himself. Fittingly enough, the group is called ¡Viva Sergio!

The group has been filled with lots of anecdotes of encounters with Sergio at conventions, signings, and random places around the globe. Every single one is a testament to El Maestro’s graciousness, sense of humor, and love of comics (not to mention life). There have also been a string of photos—some showing covers or pages from Sergio’s well known comics (Groo the Wanderer, MAD Magazine, etc.), others the sketches he made when signing people’s books, and a few excerpts from books that you may never have known he was involved with.

One from the latter category caught my eye. It was an ink wash cartoon of a 1960s era Jewish mother serving a meal to a young fellow in a police uniform and saying, “That’s a job for a nice Jewish boy?” (See the comic here.) Funny enough on its own, but seeing that cartoon caused a nearly palpable flashback for me. I remembered being . . . I dunno, eight years old, maybe . . . in my family’s den, poring through the bookcase and coming across a little red book of cartoons entitled “Memoirs of a Jewish Madam.”

Now, I knew that “madam” was a polite word for a woman … so this must be a book about a nice Jewish woman, right?

Well, the comics certainly featured a middle-aged Jewish woman, but they ALSO had a slew of pretty women in very skimpy outfits. And jokes that I kinda got . . . but I knew I missing SOMETHING. So I brought the book in to my mom and asked her to explain it to me.

I wish I remember exactly what she said. All I recall was that she gave me technically accurate, but not terribly enthusiastic explanations and sent me on my way. I was too young to really get the context anyway . . . but I LOVED those cartoons! So I was unhappy when, a few weeks later, I went looking for the book again, and it had mysteriously disappeared from the bookcase, never to be seen again.

I’d pretty much forgotten about that book until a week or so ago. I never met anyone else who’d heard of it, and never saw a copy in any of the hundreds of used bookstores I’ve visited over the past 40+ years. But once I saw that single comic with the young police officer, it all flooded back to me. I had NO IDEA that those cartoons had been done by Sergio (at the time I hadn’t even encountered him through MAD Magazine yet) . . . but in my newly awakened mind’s eye, it was clear to me that this book HAD been drawn by El Maestro. Who else COULD it be!

So I hopped online, did a  Google search, and quickly found used copies of both the original book and its sequel (it had a SEQUEL!) for sale from a used bookstore in Tucson, AZ. Inexpensively, too . . . because who knew that such things even EXISTED?!

A package arrived the other day. A package from Tucson. And inside I found charmingly naughty jokes, beautiful comics by a man I’ve admired for as long as I can remember admiring artists, and a whole slew of memories I didn’t know I’d forgotten.

¡Viva Sergio! indeed! ¡Viva El Maestro!

Putting the EmPHAsis on the Wrong SylLABle

CAVEAT: I mean absolutely NO political or religious implications to this … it just amused me linguistically.

Certainly, anyone who pays attention to the news in just about any medium will have heard the name of “The Christian Science Monitor” from time to time. I’ve always heard the phrase said with an emphasis that tied “Christian” and “Science” together … creating the impression that it is a “Monitor that is run by Christian Scientists.”

However, on the radio recently I heard an announcer say the name with an emphasis that tied the words “Science” and “Monitor” together … creating the impression that it is a paper whose purpose is for “Christians to Monitor Science” (like “Science” was trying to pull a fast one and had to be watched suspiciously).

Again, I mean to cast no aspersion on real-world institutions … but the idea of a religious-based “Science Monitor” organization . . . particularly in a setting that rife with corruption, conspiracy, and power-mongering.

It’s All Greek to Me

Left to my own devices, I’m not much of a breakfasty kind of guy—I’m just not generally hungry when I wake up in the morning. But I’ve been convinced of the benefits to eating at least a small something at the start of the day, so for the past six months or so I’ve been having a container of yogurt. After seeing the wave of “Greek yogurt” options flood into the refrigerated aisle, and reading more than a few articles about the supposed superiority of Greek yogurt, I decided to change things up and give it a whirl.

I was surprised when I opened my first container—it smelled different . . . stronger and more sour than the yogurt I was used to. In fact, it smelled a lot more like the yogurt I used to DESPISE when I was a kid. The kind my mom used to buy because it was “health food,” not the super-sweetened dessert-snack style yogurt that we’ve become so used to.

At first, I really didn’t like this Greek yogurt at all . . . but it was hard to say why. The flavoring (blueberry, in this case) was just like the one from the yogurt I had been eating. Though there was a slightly sour under-flavor, my opinion was already trending negative when that kicked in. The consistency was very different—thicker and more textured.

No, on the whole, I didn’t dig it. But I’d bought 10 servings . . . and I didn’t dislike it so much that I wanted to waste those. I figured I’d just go through those and then switch back to my old brand with my next shopping trip.

But a strange thing happened over the next couple of weeks . . . the Greek yogurt really grew on me. I think that it really helped that the vanilla flavored one actually had the consistency and taste of a yogurt-based cake icing. Now I’m enjoying most of the flavors as much or more than I did the old style. (I still find the blueberry is sour, though . . . which is a shame because that used to be my favorite flavor.)

Setting the System for 2014

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. I dislike using the turn of the year as some kind of magical starting point. It encourages delaying changes you know need to be made so that they synch with this now fetishized date, and results in each December 31st being a time when you’re focusing on all the things you failed to accomplish. (Sure, that’s a pessimistic view, but it’s also realistic . . . more endeavors fail than succeed.)

I prefer to start working toward goals as soon as I realize I desire them AND have done the necessary preparations to give the effort a reasonably good chance at success. Of course, sometimes these goals coincidentally make themselves clear to me as the New Year holiday approaches, and in those cases I’m not so hidebound as to avoid kicking them off BECAUSE of the cultural fixation with the date … but even when I do, you’ll almost NEVER find me CALLING these changes “New Year’s Resolutions.”

As it turns out, somewhere around the middle of December 2013 a handful of desires, hopes, and practicalities led me to realize that there were some goals I’d like to achieve that were either entirely new, or were existent but not making any significant progress. So I began thinking about what goals I’d prioritize and how I’d go about achieving them. Somewhere in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, though, my social media feeds pointed me to James Clear’s blog post Forget About Setting Goals—Do This Instead, and my perspective changed.

The gist of the article (which is pretty brief, so I highly suggest reading it yourself) is that identifying goals is significantly less effective than is instituting new ongoing systems of behavior when it comes to getting things done. Odd, I know, since a “goal” is a “thing you want to get done” . . . but I have to say that, when I think about it, the most effective results I’ve ever gotten in just about every facet of my life have come from making systematic changes, not from setting specific goals.

I’ve been thinking about this, and I’ve decided that rather than set goals based on my month-ago realizations, I’m going to attempt to make changes to my systems. I’m not going to think about end goals, I’m going to think about the process. Rather than setting a target number of cartoons and illustrations to complete, I’m going to set a number of hours per week that I spend drawing.

Honestly, this change is more significant than I first thought. It seemed to me that it was a trick to convert a goal into smaller, more easily achievable goals that added up to the original one. But as I think about actually APPLYING this change to my life and work, it’s actually much different than that.

I’m just about ready to start rolling out my new systems. I doubt anyone but me will notice the difference, since it’s only FINISHED work that the outside world generally sees . . . but I’m still excited about the prospect. And if this way of doing things IS, in fact, more effective at getting things done . . . well . . . there should be an increased number things for you to see as the year rolls along.

Stay tuned for more.